Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Wednesday August 12

6 am was an early start, but our day, dear reader, was to be very busy indeed. We’d planned to reach the hostile territory of Askja volcano (right in the middle of Iceland) that evening, with numerous stops along the way, so there was no time to hang around.

Our first major stop was the famous Hengifoss waterfall, next to the lake.

Well, when I say “next to” that’s not quite true: it’s a good hour and half’s walk. We’d been right to get up early, since we were the first there.

Here’s the smaller Litlanesfoss waterfall, downstream of the big one, beautifully framed by basalt columns.

As we got closer to our goal, I prayed for a ray of sunlight over the falls, which is famous for its red strata.

Here’s the beauty! We can’t get closer to it, because it’s protected by an enclosure of volcanic rock.

You can see the red strata on this photograph, despite the weak sun.

We started wandering back slowly at around 9.30 am.

There were so many things to see on the way.

The waterfall turns into a frothing flow through a narrow canyon.

We also came across a few flowers that I attempted to photograph.

It was around 11.30 am by the time we got onto Track F910. We were rather worried about fuel, since we were ¾ full, and wanted the reassurance of a full tank before heading into the wilderness. There was a gas station marked on our map, but it was quite a way away, in the middle of nowhere, and we didn’t even know if it would be open.

But everything was fine for now, so we took a little detour onto the F909 to get a closer look at Snaefell Mountain, which rises to 1,833 meters (6,013 feet).

TRACK F910, ICELANDIC HIGHLANDS

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 9 / 20 +

We didn’t know it yet, but we’d made a mistake. The F910 suddenly turns right at a crossroads, and we didn’t pay attention but just continued straight ahead. After a while, we found ourselves in the middle of an unbelievable construction site for a dam.

We drove onto the workers’ car park and saw this green truck, with the sound of classical music drifting out from inside.

It might seem quite outlandish to you, but the road wasn’t closed off, so we’d been able to drive right past these huge construction vehicles. Here we were, right in the middle of the construction site for the Kárahnjúkastífla dam.

I stopped to take these photographs of the craziest construction site I’ve ever seen. Just look at those cars (even a bus!) at the bottom of the canyon.

Then we turned round. Here’s a photograph of the artificial lake formed by the dam.

Finally we found our way back onto the F910. Our mistake cost us more than an hour, and 35 km (22 miles) of fuel! You can see on the sign below that the F910 makes a right turn! That’s where we went wrong, continuing toward Kárahnjúkar. The time was now 1.45 pm.

It was 2.20 pm when we reached the gas station! Yes, that really is a gas station.

I went to pay, in the garage of this little house lost in the middle of nowhere. I asked the guy if he lived here, and he answered that he did, but only in the summer months, up until September; after that the weather made it too tough.

Anecdote /
Seeing a fridge behind him with some cans of beers in it, I asked him:
“Are those beers with or without alcohol?”
He looked at me slyly and said:
“You want some beer?”
I answered that I’d been dreaming of a real beer for days.
“OK, come around and have a look in the back.” he told me.
I advanced incredulously through what appeared to be a bistro. And there at the end, almost hidden, was the actual bar, with “real” beers!!
“Here are the real beers if you want them,” he said, “but shhh, you were never here.”
I found the scene so incredible that I took a photo of it. I guess his name was Sam?

Once I’d got what I came for, we returned to the “official” counter of the gas station. I paid for my beers (four cans for 3,200 ISK / €19) and the gas, then left.

It took us exactly four hours to get to Askja volcano. Four hours of tracks amid surreal landscapes, the sensations of driving through I’ll never forget.

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 10 / 20 +

The NASA astronauts trained in these territories before leaving for the moon.

We arrived at Askja base camp at 6.30 pm. It was extremely cold, but we were in luck: there was still a little sun. I rushed straight to the office to pay for our pitch, essentially to tell them we were staying there that night, and also to buy a map of the area. I was surprised to find that the two rangers in charge of this harsh place were two young women.

ASKJA, ICELANDIC HIGHLANDS

There wasn’t a minute to lose if we wanted to reach the volcano while the light was good. We still had to drive a few kilometers along a narrow track through the inhospitable lava field, followed by a 30-minute hike to reach the Holy Grail.

We were wrapped up very well, and had taken every precaution, despite the sun. You see, before leaving, I’d read a terrifying account by one Régis of his trip to this place in his online journal. I recommend you read about his experience. You can find it here (in French).

In short, he recounts how he set off lightly dressed, in view of the pleasant weather conditions, and because he wanted to bathe in the thick warm waters of Víti (25 °C / 77 °F), but that he was surprised by a sudden thick fog and a wild storm, which nearly cost him his life!

Little chance of that happening to us, I thought: the sky was peaceful and blue.

Here’s Víti in the foreground and the glacial lake in the background. What a surreal place.

We walked around the crater. Can you see Emilie in the photograph?

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 14 / 19 +

Emilie was taking her first steps in photography. And what she loved was photographing details with the telephoto lens. Details such as these:

We’d arrived just in time, because the sun was fading fast.

And that’s when the incredible thing happened: the famous storm that nearly swallowed up the unfortunate Régis was here. In two minutes, the sun had given way to a dark monster of fog and hail. We protected the equipment as best we could, and left as fast as possible.

It took us 45 minutes to get back to the car.

We re-crossed the lava field.

Back to the campground, where we would spend the night:

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 16 / 20 +

This cyclist arrived exhausted as the sun set. The idea of cycling these tracks, alone, left me speechless.

It was 8.30 pm.

It was so cold that night that we slept fully clothed in our sleeping bags, complete with fleeces, gloves and bonnets. The temperature inside the car was 6 °C (43 °F).

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